The Emerald Light in the Air
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“Solace” is from Donald Antrim’s story collection THE EMERALD LIGHT IN THE AIR (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). Antrim is a frequent contributor of fiction to The New Yorker and has written two critically acclaimed novels, The Verificationist and The Hundred Brothers, the latter a finalist for the 1998 PEN/Faulkner Award in fiction. He is also the author of The Afterlife, a 2006 memoir.
He has received grants and awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. In 2013, he received a “genius” fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation.
Donald Antrim is a writer whose tightly crafted works of fiction and nonfiction are marked by a contrast between elegant, concise language and the disorienting chaos in which his characters find themselves. Antrim creates fictional worlds that are both commonplace and yet surreal, combining close observations of the banality of everyday life with the absurd.
The Verificationist (2000) recounts the ramblings of a group of psychoanalysts in an all-night restaurant through the eyes of Tom, who spends most of the book floating on the ceiling and whose tenuous grasp on reality is being destroyed by his dread of small, everyday decisions. In The Hundred Brothers (1998), Antrim creates a circumscribed, fantastical world in which a gathering of brothers at their ancestral estate (ostensibly to bury their father’s ashes) exposes the comical yet destructive manifestations of masculinity, sibling rivalry, and familial disintegration. As the night progresses and their task remains unfinished, the narrator both explicates and evokes in the reader the alternating feelings of love and hate that characterize his relationship with his brothers and lead to the novel’s inevitable, macabre climax.
In his review of THE EMERALD LIGHT IN THE AIR, David Ulin, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said: “At first glance, Donald Antrim’s collection of short fiction looks like a departure — at least from the three novels for which he is known. If in the past, Antrim has played around the edges of reality — his first book, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, involves a suburban town armed for self-defense, while The Verificationist unfolds in a pancake house where low-rent analysts lament their fates — here he plunges into the very center, describing a series of characters (men, mostly) lost in the middle of their lives.
In that regard, THE EMERALD LIGHT IN THE AIR is an extension of Antrim’s devastating 2006 memoir in which the author’s relationship with his mother becomes a lens through which to consider human frailty and dependence: all the ways we rely on one another, and all the ways that can never be enough.